Russia makes slow progress in attempt to block Ukrainian forces 2022-04-28 08:01:00

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The Russian army gradually Grab more land In eastern Ukraine, it rushes south from the city of Izyum with the clear goal of cutting off Ukrainian forces. But Ukrainian and Western officials and analysts say Moscow’s progress is slow and has not yet achieved a decisive breakthrough.

The Ukrainian military said Thursday that Russian forces have captured villages south of Izyum in recent days and are gathering in a new direction after Ukraine halted their advance.

Russia at the end of March It changed its direct goals From the seizure of Kyiv and the overthrow of the elected government to the seizure of parts of the territory in eastern Ukraine. But analysts say any success in cutting Ukrainian units’ supply lines may not be decisive, as Russian forces will be vulnerable to Ukrainian counter-attacks and face heavy fighting in the cities.

Analysts said Moscow is seeking rapid progress before Ukraine can move new and renewed units to the east, backed by heavy weapons that the West has already promised or delivered. Ukrainian officials say Russia is suffering heavy losses.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is in Ukraine to meet President Zelensky. Russia released US citizen Trevor Reid in a prisoner exchange deal as tensions escalate between Moscow and Washington; President Biden is set to call for more aid to Ukraine. Photo: Gleb Garanish/Reuters

The Pentagon said on Wednesday that more than half of the 90 howitzers it pledged to provide to Ukraine have been delivered. By the end of May, the weapons will have arrived in sufficient quantities to change the balance of power on the front, Oleksiy Aristovich, a Ukrainian presidential adviser, said.

“By mid-June … we will be ready to launch the offensive,” he said in a Ukrainian television interview late Wednesday.

The West is directing weapons, such as artillery and anti-aircraft guns, and ammunition into Ukraine to help it defend itself. A new phase of the warHeavy weapons are expected to play a more important role. The effect of weapons will take time on the battlefield, as some systems are new to the Ukrainians and require training and integration into the Kyiv army. The Pentagon said it completed training howitzers this week for 50 Ukrainians who can pass on the knowledge to their teammates.

Russia quickly collected the remnants of the units destroyed in the fighting around Kyiv in the first weeks of the war and sent them to fight in the east. Britain’s Ministry of Defense said on Wednesday that this left Russian forces there without adequate logistical and other support, preventing a major breakthrough, describing the Russian advance as minimal.

They did not take the time to rebuild the forces that destroyed the fighting around Kyiv. “They get them to fight when they become available,” said Frederic Kagan, senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington think tank.

Ukrainian soldiers on Wednesday guarded a position in a front-line village in the Zaporizhzhzh region.


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Chris McGrath / Getty Images

Kharkiv residents helped an emergency worker transport a man to an ambulance Wednesday after a Russian raid on the northeastern city.


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Felipe Dana/The Associated Press

Russian officials say they intend to drive Ukrainian forces out of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in eastern Ukraine, whose independence the Kremlin recognized in February. Moscow says the invasion, which it calls a “special military operation,” will be planned.

Mr. Aristovich, the presidential adviser, said that Russia could make further advances as it concentrated its artillery and air force to bombard, but that Ukrainian forces were inflicting heavy losses and withdrawing only to take better defensive positions.

The Russian army has not yet had much success in penetrating the defensive line established by the Ukrainian army along the front line Eight year struggle With Russian agents in eastern Ukraine. But Russia made progress with strikes from Russian lands in the north, where the Ukrainian defenses were less well prepared.

The Russian advance south of Izyum appears to be aimed at cutting off Ukrainian forces in the cities of Sloviansk and Kramatorsk. Another Russian advance farther east, towards the city of Lyman, is trying to encircle the cities of Severodonetsk and Lychansk. Analysts said it was not yet clear whether Russia would seek a large encirclement of Ukrainian forces or smaller enclaves.

But even if they surrounded the Ukrainian units, the Russian forces would be vulnerable to counterattacks and would have to continue fighting in urban areas, where the defenders had a significant advantage. The Russian army besieged the big cities like Chernihiv in northern Ukraine in March but failed to capture them.

“At some point it is possible, but not inevitable, that the Russian will to fight will be broken, and they will not be able to conduct offensive operations if they continue to suffer heavy losses,” Mr. Kagan said.

The Russian Defense Ministry said its forces shot down a Ukrainian Su-24 plane near Mykolaivka in eastern Ukraine. It said that the Russian Air Force bombed 67 Ukrainian military facilities in the past 24 hours, and that Russian forces repelled an attack by Ukrainian forces with Tochka U missiles and missile launchers in Russian-controlled territory in Kherson, southern Ukraine.

Russia is refocusing its offensive in Ukraine on the Donbass region, after setbacks in Kyiv and other northern cities, where it was thwarted in the air and on the ground. But military experts say the landscape in the east may be beneficial for Moscow. Image caption: Laura Kamerman

Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky accused Russia in a late-night speech of using what he called energy blackmail to warn European countries not to provide more support to Ukraine. Moscow cut off gas supplies to Poland and Bulgaria on Wednesday, a move the Ukrainian leader called clear evidence that “no one in Europe can hope to maintain any normal economic cooperation with Russia”.

The White House has also criticized Russia’s halt on energy, with Press Secretary Jen Psaki telling reporters on Wednesday that Moscow is “almost using energy supplies as a weapon.”

Some European officials have said that Russia’s moves against Poland and Bulgaria were intended to warn all EU members against sending arms and ammunition to Ukraine. Germany said on Tuesday it would Delivery of anti-aircraft tanks to Ukraineabandoned its previous reluctance to send heavy weapons and joined the growing number of countries, led by the United States, arming the defenders of Ukraine with artillery, armored vehicles and other powerful weapons.

The European Union has pledged to continue phasing out its purchases of Russian natural gas.

Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday warned of dire consequences for any country intending to interfere in the Russian operation to seize Ukraine and create what he called “strategic threats”.

Ukrainians displaced by fighting elsewhere in the country arrive in the city of Zaporizhia in the southeast of the country.


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Manu Prabhu for The Wall Street Journal

Mourners gathered on Wednesday in the outskirts of Kyiv for the funeral of a man who was captured by Russians while serving in the Ukrainian Regional Defense Forces.


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Justyna Mielnikiewicz / MAPS for The Wall Street Journal

Speaking to the House of Legislators of the Russian Federal Assembly in Saint Petersburg, he said, “They should know that our response to counterstrikes will be very fast.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned earlier this week that the West is now Engaged in a proxy war With Russia over Ukraine that could escalate into a global conflict – US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s comments described as “dangerous and unhelpful”.

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres is scheduled to meet with Ukrainian Mr. Zelensky in Kyiv later Thursday after meeting with Putin and Lavrov in Moscow earlier this week.

Mr. Guterres also visited Bucha, a commuter town north of Kyiv where Hundreds of people were killed During Russia’s first attempt to seize the Ukrainian capital in the early days of the invasion and subsequent occupation. The region is now the focus of a war crimes investigation by the International Criminal Court, although Russia is not a party to the court and is unlikely to hand over any leaders for trial.

“I appeal to the Russian Federation to accept cooperation with the International Criminal Court,” Mr. Guterres said. “But when we talk about war crimes, we cannot forget that the worst crimes are war itself.”

Ukrainian authorities on Thursday File criminal charges against 10 Russian soldiers accused of taking civilians hostage and abusing them in Bucha, in the first such move by prosecutors investigating possible war crimes.

All of them were non-commissioned officers and personnel of the 64th Separate Guards Motorized Rifle Brigade of the Russian Guard, one of the units that participated in the occupation of the Kyiv suburb for a month. Ukrainian authorities said they found more than 400 civilians dead after Russian forces withdrew in late March, their bodies piled up in mass graves or left scattered on streets and sidewalks.

write to James Marson in james.marson@wsj.com

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